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September 2, 2020

DePasquale Compromised Audit of Wolf’s Shutdown Waivers

Audit into shutdown waivers is discredited by Auditor General's actions

Way back at the beginning of the coronavirus business shutdown, the Wolf administration allowed “non-essential” businesses to apply for shutdown waivers. It would be generous to call the approval process for granting approvals disorganized and opaque. For months, Governor Wolf refused to disclose who had applied for waivers. The administration also refused to provide a list of those approved or denied. Wolf’s refusal to disclose the waiver information extended to not complying with a subpoena from the Pennsylvania Senate for the information.

Eventually, the Governor provided some of the information related to the shutdown waivers. By no means has his administration provided a detailed explanation of the criteria used to grant or revoke waivers. The slapdash and inconsistent approval process and the Governor’s refusal to give any detailed account of the process led the General Assembly to request that the Auditor General examine the process.

The Auditor General is an independently elected office in Pennsylvania. In theory, this means that the Auditor General is not beholden to anyone who his office might have to investigate. That independence was thrown out the window by the Commonwealth’s current Auditor General, Eugene DePasquale.

Although Depasquale is not on the ballot for Auditor General this year, he has reached his term limit; he is currently running for Congress. Part of running for Congress is fundraising. DePasquale made the questionable decision of having Governor Wolf host an online digital fundraiser for his Congressional race. Plus, Wolf and his wife maxed out their personal donations to DePasquale’s campaign.

Yes, this is as bad as it sounds. There is no way that Republican members of the General Assembly will accept the audit at face-value. No one can say that this audit is being conducted by an independent third-party with a straight face. It isn’t clear what options the General Assembly has available at this point. Governor Wolf is unlikely to surrender the types of documents the General Assembly would need to conduct another investigation, and the Supreme Court has shown no interest in acting as a check on the Governor so far; we don’t see that changing.

The audit is expected to be released in October. We’ll let you know when that happens and give you our analysis as soon as possible.